Winter Moon: Creating dramatic night scenes from daytime shots with Photoshop

Most road trips are in daylight hours, just to enjoy the scenery. This particular mountain range, one of many in Nevada, just happened to have a fresh dusting of snow with none on the prairie. The daytime shot was a favorite of this trip back from Oregon to Colorado, but I couldn’t resist adding some backlit clouds with the moon, and redirecting the shadows on the mountain. The end result was a surreal dreamscape that is far more unusual than the daytime shot.

As are most of my images, I composited this shot by using a stormy cloud that was top lit by the sun, then added the moon, placing it much closer, but from the same general direction so as to keep the shadowed face and underside of the clouds in the proper perspective. To make the moon appear behind the clouds, I simply erased a portion so as to leave enough opacity that some of the detail shows through. This is easily enough done by taking the moon layer and reducing the opacity to about 25% so that the cloud formation comes into view, then taking a fairly soft eraser and swiping across the area. You may want to duplicate the moon so that you have your original in case you are not happy with your first attempt.

Nevada Mnt.

The next step is go to the foreground image, select the sky with a magic wand, select inverse, and drag the foreground into the composite. Note that I also erased a portion of the mountain. Each of the layers should then be adjusted for brightness, contrast, and saturation. It’s always good to look at real nighttime shots to get a good feel for the right intensity. Remember, however, this is art, so realism isn’t always necessary.

Unfortunately, the shadows that the sun cast on the mountain were at the wrong angle, so I added a layer to create shadows. There are a number of ways to approach this. One is to take a soft brush and paint the areas black, then back off the opacity until the black looks like a shadow. You can also select areas with the polygon lasso, feather the selection, and fill, then reduce the opacity.  Perhaps the best approach is to create a layer, select the areas where you want shadows, feather those areas and fill with black. This way you can adjust the opacity, plus alter the shape of the shadows with tools like smudge or clone stamp. The possibilities seem endless with Photoshop. Shadows are important, even in surreal images.

The last steps were to add a frame, signature, and copyright.


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